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A Community College Grows in Idaho

May 24, 2007

Residents of the greater Boise, Idaho metropolitan area felt it was about time they had their own community college, so they did something about it. They voted.

On Tuesday, voters in two Idaho counties approved a ballot initiative that will lead to the creation of a new community college district in the region. The final tally barely cleared a required supermajority of two-thirds of the combined votes from Ada and Canyon Counties, overcoming potentially significant anti-tax sentiment. According to supporters of the measure as well as the state Board of Education, Boise has until now been the largest metropolitan area in the country without its own community college.

The College of Western Idaho, as it will be called, is initially projected to open its doors next January -- although where those doors will be located is still up in the air. Boise State University has a standing offer to essentially donate one of its campuses, which houses the Larry G. Selland College of Applied Technology in nearby Nampa, to serve as the site of the future institution. The existing college, which offers work force training and adult education, would also transfer its staff and faculty to the auspices of the new district, according to Bob Evancho, Boise State's associate communications director.

Boise State's president, Bob Kustra, released a statement commending the result of the vote. "We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the community college vote. The citizens of the Treasure Valley deserve as many opportunities for educational services as possible, and the creation of a community college district here will add more affordable and accessible options for students of all ages, backgrounds and needs," he said.

"Boise State’s role in the start-up of the community college is significant, and we are fully committed to that goal. Our involvement and interest in transitioning existing programs, facilities and resources in the Selland College to a new community college will reduce the initial costs considerably and expedite its establishment."

At the same time, Boise State has applied to the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which supported the Community College Now! awareness campaign in Idaho, for a grant to support additional buildings and facilities for the future college, according to Ray Stark, senior vice president of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The victory at the ballot box for proponents of the community college district came after the Legislature refused to lower the bar for the percentage of votes needed to pass the initiative -- from Idaho's 66-2/3-percent rule, which is required for most initiatives needing tax authority, to 60 percent. The governor, who supported the community college proposal, had proposed easing the requirement as long as the measure was included in the next general election in November.

After that initial setback, supporters of the measure, which included prominent businesses such as Micron Technology Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce, began a campaign that raised more than $300,000 for voter registration, mailings and advertisements in various media, Stark said.

Proponents of the new district knew what they were up against: a state with a significant aversion to additional taxes. But the campaign emphasized the proposed college's benefits to the local economy, as well as the educational opportunities it would open up to new high school graduates, people switching to a second career and adult learners. "The state of Idaho has a fairly high graduation rate from high school but one of the lowest rates in the country for those that go on to further their education from high school," Stark said, underscoring the necessity that was apparently felt as well by at least two-thirds of local voters. The final property tax increase is projected to amount to no more than $11.39 per $100,000 of taxable assets.

The measure also overcame arguments that the region was already well-served by Boise State as well as a system from across the border in Ontario, Ore., Treasure Valley Community College, which operates a satellite facility in Caldwell, west of Boise. Mark Browning, chief communications officer of the Idaho Board of Education, said that having a nearby campus was important for students. He also said that Treasure Valley's Caldwell campus relied entirely on student fees since no local taxes could be levied.

Browning added that local businesses are clamoring for one- and two-year programs that provide the same level of training that students would get from a full four-year undergraduate degree at Boise State, and for less cost. "Access to education, and affordable access, is absolutely key," he said.

Now that the new district has the approval of voters, the next step will be for the Board of Education to appoint five members as the College of Western Idaho's trustees. The members of the college's board, as well as the state board, will work to agree on a final location and other details in the coming months.

 

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